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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 6:20 am | Fair 44º


Bureau Finds ‘No Significant’ Camp 4 Environmental Impacts

Chumash take another step toward placing valley acres into federal trust

A proposed tribal housing development has “no significant” environmental impact on the surrounding area of a parcel near the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians reservation, a federal agency announced Wednesday.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” based on the tribe’s final environmental assessment for planned development on Camp 4, a 1,433-acre agriculture parcel near the 138-acre valley reservation along Highway 246.

The Chumash bought the land in 2010 from the late Fess Parker, and has said it wants to build homes there for tribal members.

The tribe has been working to place Camp 4 into federal trust, a move that would effectively remove the land from the county’s tax rolls and from the oversight of the county planning processes.

The BIA finding, signed last Friday, is not a determination of the Chumash’s fee-to-trust application, and cannot be appealed, according to Chad Broussard, an environmental protection specialist with the BIA’s Pacific Regional Office.

A final BIA decision and accompanying notice will come at least 30 days after issuing the latest finding, Broussard said.

In its ruling, the BIA allowed the building of 143 residential units ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, an on-site wastewater treatment plant, roads and other infrastructure after also evaluating environmental comments from officials and the public.

An environmental impact statement is not required, the BIA determined, months after the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors slammed the tribe’s environmental review of Camp 4 in a letter to the agency in July, pleading for the area’s oak woodlands and active agriculture.

“What it means is that we’re one step closer to bringing this land into trust,” Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta told Noozhawk. “I think this decision by the bureau speaks very loud and very clear to the legislators up in DC. Just because Santa Barbara County doesn’t think it’s right, doesn’t mean it’s not right. They refused to work with us.”

Because the county has fought the fee-to-trust process, Armenta expects officials would likely appeal a final BIA decision, something he hopes could be determined by the end of 2014.

The Chumash could also bypass the county, since a bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives nearly a year ago. HR 3313 would authorize the U.S. Secretary of Interior to take the land into trust for the benefit of the tribe and other purposes, and outlaw gambling, a main concern for valley residents.

Beyond being referred into the House Committee on Natural Resources, HR 3313 still awaits a hearing on the floor.

Armenta said he expects that to change soon, possibly after the November election.

He said he hopes the county respects the lengthy, federal process the tribe has gone through, and noted he was glad the county's attorneys advised the Board of Supervisors this week that it has no avenue to sue the Chumash over the planned expansion.

The decision to forgo legal action was reached in closed session Tuesday, another disappointment, said Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the valley.

Farr said she hadn’t yet seen a county notice of the BIA filing, but has requested that the supervisors discuss the latest Camp 4 development with county counsel in closed session at the board's next meeting on Nov. 4.

“Clearly it’s very disappointing, but I think, unfortunately, probably not that unexpected,” she said. “We have been very vigilant on this issue from the very beginning. This is an issue that affects the entire county.”

Farr wouldn’t say whether the supervisors would appeal an eventual BIA decision, but noted it would be a board decision and that most of her colleagues have already publicly expressed their concerns with placing Camp 4 into trust.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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